FBI: ex-Intel worker tried to take trade secrets to AMD

A former Intel engineer, Biswahoman Pani, stands accused of stealing multiple confidential documents from that company. Pani voluntarily resigned from Intel on May 29, 2008, and claimed he intended to begin work with a hedge fund. Per the terms of his resignation, Pani remained with Intel (though on vacation) through June 11, but actually began work at AMD on June 2, putting him on both companies' payrolls for approximately nine days. HangZhou Night Net

Pani's sudden change in employers is enough to potentially land him in hot water, given that his contract almost certainly included a noncompete clause. Intel can choose not to pursue an employee for breaching that clause, but Mr. Pani lied to Intel about his next employer, was on the payroll of both Intel and AMD simultaneously, and went to work for Intel's only real competitor. This is not the type of scenario that engenders goodwill, and Intel might well have chosen to pursue Pani regardless. The fact that the engineer copied confidential documents on his way out the door, however, made such pursuit a foregone conclusion.

According an affidavit filed by an FBI investigator, Pani received a "Below Expectations" rating for his performance in 2007. Pani justified at least part of the rating by claiming that he was upset and distracted by the considerable distance between him and his wife; the engineer worked in Hudson, MA, while his wife, Vandana Padhi, worked at one of Intel's California facilities. Biswahoman requested that Intel consider his spouse for a position at the Massachusetts plant, but resigned within hours of being told her transfer had been approved. Pani's supervisor met with him the day following his resignation (May 30), at which point Pani stated he was using the first two days of his vacation to investigate the hedge fund opportunity, and the rest of it to help his wife move. He remained on Intel's payroll until June 11.

What the engineer failed to mention, however, was that he'd been negotiating with AMD since February of 2008, and actually began his employment with that company on June 2 of this year. Intel discovered Pani's dual employment after his exit interview on June 11, at which point it conducted a forensic analysis of his work-issued laptop. Based on the laptop's data logs, Pani was found to have accessed Intel's secure Anacapa database at numerous points between June 8 and June 10, and had downloaded 13 confidential documents. Prior to this, Biswahoman had only accessed Anacapa three times in his five years at Intel.

The FBI searched Pani's home on July 1, and found eight Intel documents and 19 CAD drawings, all classified as confidential, secret, or top secret. When questioned, Pani admitted to taking the files, but claimed he did so out of curiosity and a desire to help tutor his wife in her new job at the Hudson facility. The fact that Vandana Padhi did not work in an area that would have required access to the files her husband stole, however, casts any claims of tutorship in a dim light.

Thus far, there is no evidence that AMD was aware of or involved in Pani's theft; the FBI believes the engineer intended to use the documents for personal gain. Pani never offered the information he illegally obtained to AMD or any other Intel competitor, but may have intended to give AMD a competitive advantage by claiming the ideas and concepts contained within the files as his own.

The FBI believes Pani did intend to use the files for his own personal gain, based on "the timing of Pani's job negotiations with AMD, his lies to Intel about his future employment plans, his working for AMD while he was still employed at Intel, his downloading Intel's files while working for AMD and on vacation from Intel, the sheer number and value of the Intel files Pani downloaded, the fact that certain of the files had never been used by Pani in his job, the fact that the files embodied the cutting edge of Intel's technology, Pani's lies to Intel that he had not retained any of Intel's confidential and proprietary information, and Pani's lies to the United States about wanting the files to help his wife." Whew.

For the record, AMD might well have turned Pani in, had it become aware that he was in possession of confidential Intel documents. Simply reviewing such data could open the company to allegations of trade secret theft, and major companies have been known to refuse such information, even when available, as happened between Pepsi and Coca-Cola back in 2006. Pani is no longer employed at AMD—hopefully that hedge fund works out great for him.

Further reading:The Boston Globe broke the story late last week
Found via The Register

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